It's hard to miss the signs on chain drug stores around the region. Fast, efficient, quality health care services are available within – the same place where you buy your drugs and other health care supplies.

This new kind of venture is known as a retail clinic, where you can see a health care provider without an appointment in a convenient neighborhood location. As the proliferation of locations suggests, the retail clinic industry has recently been exploding in size. In the last year, more than 1,800 new clinics opened. The Affordable Care Act, through which millions more Americans are able to obtain health insurance, will add additional fuel to this growth.

That's the opinion of a panel of industry leaders and health policy experts, who met in Philadelphia last week to consider the emerging role of retail clinics.They saw the clinics as well positioned to provide accessible, affordable, quality care. And the clinics are now even easier to find in this region with Rite Aid's entry into the market.

Retail clinics represent an innovative model that is setting the stage for true consumer-driven healthcare. They are a relatively recent phenomenon. The first clinic opened in 2000 with a limited service offering. The range of services has expanded dramatically since then and now includes the use of telehealth and other advanced technologies. The clinics now provide a broad array of primary care services to millions of patients who would not otherwise have had access to them.

Many clinics have gone one step further and formed strategic partnerships and affiliations with major health systems. No longer are the clinics seen as competitors to traditional providers but rather as allies in providing high-quality, coordinated services that include wellness and preventive care, chronic disease care, and acute care.

Health care isn't what it used to be. Retail clinics are one way it is changing for the better.

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